Monday, July 23, 2012

Creationist debates over the Internet

From Harrisonburg, VA, USA
And on the sixth day, Al Gore gave us...
(Photo by Lawrence OP via Flickr.)
It should be obvious to anyone who knows me: I owe a great deal to the existence of the Internet. My entire professional life would not have been possible without it, including my new job at Eastern Mennonite University, which entails convincing graduate programs to invest more energy and imagination in recent innovations in web-based tools for advancing online education at EMU. And here I am saying this on a blog.

Yet there is an aspect of the Internet that has taken on new significance after my theological education at EMU, steeped as it is in the pacifist Anabaptist tradition: The Internet's inextricable link to the nation-state.

It's impossible to avoid the military (and therefore the nation-state) in any account of modern, post-WWII digital technology, including the Internet. The military has been, and continues to be, a huge source of funding for technological innovations. (Entrepreneurs take note: I hear drones are a big growth sector!)

Then there are the debates about who or what is primarily responsible for the creation of the Internet, signaled in this piece from Ars Technica, my go-to nerd website: WSJ mangles history to argue government didn't launch the Internet.

These debates want to split hairs over who had the role of "primary mover": government/military, educational institutions, or corporations. What all these seem to miss is the reality underwriting all of them: the modern nation-state. By missing this deeper reality, these debates treat the various parties fairly autonomously, as if they have no substantive relationship to each other. But if you see these players as symbiotically linked and all participating in the same game, it problematizes a statement like the one quoted in the Ars piece, that "(t)he Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government." That's an arguable point, but it leaves unexamined the project which underwrites said free markets and governments - not to mention the ideological foundations for all those linked projects.

Any theological pacifist critique of modern technology has to take this into account, or it runs the risk of implicitly perpetuating the agenda of an historical force that has presented significant challenges to Christian community and discipleship.

In the meantime, I'll continue cashing my paychecks for web-based work and writing blog posts as a form of ministry...

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